A position of trust

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Government has just announced that it has appointed 14 Permanent Secretaries. Three of the appointees have already served under the previous administration. The others are new to the post.

Within twenty four hours from Labour’s election to office, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat announced the appointment of a designate Head of the Civil Service. In line with Lawrence Gonzi’s appointments the said designate Head of the Civil Service was also appointed simultaneously as Principle Permanent Secretary at the Office of the Prime Minister and Secretary to the Cabinet.

Within hours rumours announced that all Permanent Secretaries had been requested to submit their resignations which, it was stated, were necessary and in line with normal practice in a democratic society.

It  was not however stated that the real issue with the post of Permanent Secretary is that it is a position of trust. All those appointed were so appointed because the previous administration considered that they could be trusted. Knowing some if not most of the appointees I can say that the trust demonstrated by the previous administration in the appointment of its Permanent Secretaries was most probably based on a cocktail of considerations.  Their administrative abilities undoubtedly featured prominently on the list. There were undoubtedly other issues. Given the sensitivity of the posts I have no doubt that political loyalty was given some weight in the appointments made. In some cases more than others.

The posts of Permanent Secretaries are not the only posts which the Gonzi administration considered as positions of trust.  I remember clearly the reports drawn up by former MEPA Audit Officer on the appointment of the Director for Environment Protection at MEPA and MEPA’s  CEO without issuing a call for applications. The MEPA Audit Officer had then argued that there was no need to consider such posts as positions of trust meriting direct appointment. Subjecting them to a public competition through an open call for applications would have been fair and proper.

A number of public corporations and authorities have appointed their senior management, primarily CEOs, through either an open call or else through a direct appointment. In view of the fact that the Public Administration Act has not been brought into force there is no enforceable rule to ensure a clear demarcation line as to which posts in the wider civil service are to be deemed as positions of trust and which not.

It is logical for persons appointed to positions of trust to make way when those who appointed them are no longer in authority. But then in a micro-state as Malta, where each and every one of us is known to one and all, it is in my view essential that the positions in the wider civil service which are deemed to be “positions of trust” are to be the minimum possible number.  It does not make sense to have a large number of such posts.

Unfortunately this matter has never been discussed. What is government’s position on the matter?

It is about time that all the cards are on the table.

Greening our Communities

 

Alternattiva Demo­kratika will be fielding 10 candidates for next week’s local council elections. While many valid candidates are contesting these elections, the debate has focused on councillors who have created a mess. Topping the list are Sliema and Mosta who have let their electors down.

In Sliema, infighting, administrative irregularities and allegations of corruption (now under investigation) are surely not what electors voted for when they chose the candidates presented in 2009 by the Nationalist Party. The operation of the Sliema council over the past three years proves that in selecting its candidates the PN does not always consider competence as a primary criterion. The dissolution of the Sliema council was an appropriate step. It could, however, have been taken much earlier.

On March 10, electors will be called to clean up the mess created by Labour at Mosta where infighting has led to an ineffective council. I hasten to add that, notwithstanding the above, this council had quite a headache to bring its finances in order, an inheritance bequeathed by a 13-year PN council administration. Administrative incompetence at Mosta dates back to the first council that overspent its financial allocation, passing on the unsettled bills to subsequent councils. The unsettled bills surpassed the €1million mark!

The PN-led government has played a game of political chess at Mosta, tolerating infighting that led the council to miss meetings for five consecutive months. This should have led to its dissolution ages ago, thereby permitting the community to immediately replace those who could not deliver. By not dissolving the council, the government placed its political advantage before the interests of the Mosta community.

Last week, in an article in The Malta Independent, entitled The Way Ahead For Local Councils, Nationalist MP Robert Arrigo identified another serious issue. He spoke of instances where sitting MPs invest in the election of local councillors hoping that, upon election, they would have their protégés in place. It is very positive that Mr Arrigo emphasises that he will keep himself at arm’s length from direct involvement in the local elections in his constituencies.

Maybe it is also time to consider whether those employed in the private secretariats of holders of political office should be precluded from contesting local council elections.

AD has already had the opportunity to criticise Directive 5 issued by the Principal Permanent Secretary at the Office of the Prime Minister dealing with the participation of public officers in politics. While the most pressing issue, the right of public officers below salary scale five to contest local council elections without being required to take forced unpaid leave was resolved, there are additional matters that need to be tackled. Directive 5 needs extensive revision.

AD’s local council electoral programme places community identity and basic community services as the focal point of its mission statement. Local councils exist to serve and protect local communities, yet, various local councils have remained silent when faced with rampant over-development, which has devoured precious spaces in our towns and villages. The Mosta local council, for example, was conspicuously absent in the Wied il-Għasel debate. Residents have only been supported by AD and environmental NGOs.

Similarly, in Sliema, the local council has lost its voice on issues of over-development. It’s been ages since it spoke up on behalf of Sliema residents who feel trampled upon by so-called “developers” who have taken over Sliema, which is nowadays a permanent construction site!

Another case focused on by AD is the impact on residents of a quarry at Wied Inċita, Attard, which is too close for comfort to the residential area. Illegal developments have taken place in the quarry and, notwithstanding that it has been reformed (!), alerted and reminded of the issue many a time, the Malta Environment and Planning Authority has let the quarry operators free to do as they please. Minister Jason Azzopardi is probably unaware that part of the quarry is government owned! AD has also drawn attention to the development that Mepa recently approved on Manoel Island. Building about 500 apartments together with other structures on Manoel Island is not a good omen!

Over-development has led to the current glut, quantified at 53,000 vacant residential units in 2005 and now estimated to surpass the 70,000 mark. This glut strains the local councils’ budget for the upkeep of localities as, in fact, it means that services are unnecessarily stretched to service ghost towns! Vacant residential property in Malta adds up to nine times the size of Birkirkara!

The election of green local councillors on March 10 will ensure that environmental issues will be at the top of the local councils’ agenda. For it is through tackling environmental issues at a local level that the quality of life of our communities takes a leap forward. Experience has shown time and again that this only happens when green local councillors are elected.

Green is the colour of real change.

 

originally published in The Times, March 3, 2012

Id-Direttiva tal-Mistħija : l-aħħar Att

 

Dal-għodu kont infurmat bit-telfon li xtaq jiltaqa’ miegħi Dr Godwin Grima is-Segretarju Permanenti Ewlieni li hu ibbażat f’Kastilja. Xtaq jiltaqa’ miegħi dwar id-Direttiva Numru 5, dik li jiena iddeskrivejt bħala d-Direttiva tal-mistħija.

Fil-fatt iltqajt ma Dr Grima illum fl-4.00 pm. Kont akkumpanjat mill-kollega tiegħi l-Professur Arnold Cassola.

Dr Grima qalli li id-Direttiva qed tkun interpretata ħażin għax l-intenzjoni dejjem kienet li l-kandidat ikollu d-dritt li jagħżel hu jekk waqt il-kampanja elettorali għall-Kunsilli Lokali jibqax jaħdem, jużax il-leave tiegħu jew jagħmilx użu minn leave bla ħlas.

Jiena ġbidt l-attenzjoni ta’ Dr Grima li fil-waqt li l-intenzjoni tiegħu kienet waħda nobbli l-kliem tad-Direttiva kien jgħid mod ieħor.

Qrajtlu din il-biċċa :

“ ……… so however that in each of the three cases, the prospective candidate has no option but to avail himself/herself of unpaid electoral leave for an uninterrupted period of at least 15 working days ….” (ara paragrafu 4.1 tad-dokument hawn anness)

Din ma tikkorrispondix mal-intenzjonijiet tiegħek, Dr Grima, għidtlu.

Dr Grima qalli li għandi raġun u wegħdni li ser jieħu ħsieb li jikklarifika l-affarijiet.

Din hi l-istorja kollha. Issa jekk kienx żball ġenwin jew xi ħaġa oħra ma nafx.

L-importanti li Alternattiva Demokratika indunat filwaqt li ħaddieħor li hu mħallas biex ikun imqajjem baqa’ rieqed (per eżempju l-Assoċjazzjoni tal-Kunsilli Lokali).

Direttiva tal-Mistħija

Id-Direttiva li ħareġ is-Segretarju Permanenti Ewlieni f’l-Uffiċċju tal-Prim Ministru dwar l-impenn politiku fil-Kunsilli Lokali hi tal-mistħija.

Din id-Direttiva hi immirata lejn l-impenn ta’ dawk li jaħdmu fis-settur pubbliku. Ħarġet inkiss inkiss tant li ftit kienu dawk li jafu biha.

Dawk li qegħdin fi grad minn skala 5 (jew ekwivalenti) il-fuq m’humiex effettwati. Ma kienx possibli għalihom li jinvolvu ruħhom u hekk baqgħu. Il-bqija setgħu imma issa għandhom id-diffikulta li jridu joħorġu bil-leave.

Id-direttiva titkellem dwar leave bla ħlas għal ħmistax-il jum tax-xogħol.

Min huwa dipendenti fuq il-paga ser ikun ikkastigat talli qed joffri servizz volontarju lill-komunita. Qed ikun ikkastigat tal-impenn tiegħu fil-ħajja pubblika. Min għandu familja x’jgħajjex u loans xi jħallas ma jistax jagħmel is-sagrifiċċju finanzjarju li d-Direttiva qed titlob minnu.

Il-bieraħ fi stqarrija inbidlet ftit id-diska u qiegħed jingħad li flok leave bla ħlas il-ħaddiema tas-settur pubbliku li jikkontestaw għall-Kunsilli Lokali jkunu jistgħu jutilizzaw il-leave annwali tagħhom. Dan mhux tajjeb biżżejjed għax ifisser li ser ikunu mitluba jużaw prattikament il-leave kollu tagħhom għal sena sħiħa. B’hekk ser jitqegħdu f’posizzjoni li jnaqqsu l-ħin tal-mistrieħu tagħhom mal-familji tagħhom. Dan minn Gvern li jipprietka ħafna favur il-familji.

Ma ntqal xejn kif ser jintlaqtu dawk li m’għandhomx leave, bħall-għalliema. Dawn m’għandhomx leave annwali u huma kkumpensati bil-vakanzi tal-iskejjel fil-Milied, l-Għid u fis-sajf.

Min ħa d-deċiżjoni li wasslet għal din id-Direttiva qed jattakka l-impenn politiku taċ-ċittadin iż-żgħir li qiegħed jimpenja ruħu fl-egħruq tal-komunita’.

Dan hu attakk fl-egħruq demokratiċi tal-pajjiż.

Istħu. Jekk tafu kif.